I spent an hour deadheading the roses early in the morning. Just me in the garden, giving haircuts and quietly staking overeager plants that have reached too far to the sky for their slender stalks to support. In the garden I don’t think about the political and environmental mess we have on our hands. Instead I meditate with flowers and vegetables that don’t care a whit about the makeup on Trump’s collar or the temperature in the Arctic Circle. I care about climate change and world peace and equality, but you have to have moments where you quiet your mind and take care of yourself for a spell. For me the garden is as good a place as any to cast that spell.
I found myself looking up the garden club in the town I live in, wondering who I knew that was a member. I didn’t recognize a face or a name. All women with an average age about 25 years my senior. I could really shake up a club like that if I were to join. Introduce cocktails with the clematis Tuesday nights, or run for garden club President on a platform of composting for all ages. It reminded me that a lot of people assume that my wife is the gardener in the family. My wife, respectfully, is definitely not a gardener. She’d rather hit the pavement in running shoes than linger in the loam. But it’s easy to see why people assume she might be when you look at the typical garden club membership.
If 2020 had been a normal year I had planned to downsize the garden a bit. Fewer containers filled with flowers would mean less maintenance, which would mean more freedom to travel, hike, sail or pursue crazy ideas like Scuba diving again. It takes commitment to have a good garden, that’s all. Time and money and sweat equity and you get rewarded with a lovely show. And you want to enjoy the show, but all you see are the bare spots where something didn’t perform as planned, or the leaves the rabbits are nibbling on, or the cursed chipmunk holes. And you roll up your sleeves and get back to it.
I know many people who do the bare minimum for landscaping, hire someone to mow for them, treat the lawn with chemicals, and even plant flowers for them. That all seems quite attractive somedays, but that’s not me. I’ve had a garden for as long as I’ve owned a house, and couldn’t see hiring it out to someone else. Why should they have all the fun? I even purchased a push mower so I could get more steps in. Those days of coming home from work to see the lawn freshly cut in expertly angled lines by the landscaper are behind me for now. And walking the entire property has proven to be more therapeutic than I thought it would be. I might not be hiking a mountain, but I’m getting a good amount of exercise and spend a few seconds enjoying the fruits of my labor before moving on to some other task.
The time to enjoy the garden is when the world is asleep and it’s just you and a hot beverage, watching the world wake up around you. The garden is a magnet for bees and hummingbirds, but also for rabbits and groundhogs and chipmunks and hornets and snakes. I take the good with the bad, and try to minimize the damage that the unwelcome visitors do while encouraging more visits from the stars of the garden. It all becomes an immersive experience, better than any virtual reality game. Why live virtually when there’s so much to see right outside the window?
And so this morning at an hour most people shake their heads at I quietly tied twine onto stakes and gently coaxed thorny roses upward. A few thorns managed to catch the back of my hand in the process and drew blood, which I wiped away and finished the knots. The roses looked happier for the support, but a bit resentful for the restraint. We all want freedom, don’t we? For me the garden is my stake in the ground, offering support and refuge, though at times I grow resentful at the commitment. But then I remember that the commitment is exactly what I was looking for all along.